By Cordell and Janice Vail
23 Nov 2003
A weekly email gospel message for the descendents of Ammon and Winona Vail
Why was Joseph Smith a Mason?
Why was Joseph Smith a Mason?
In the past I have had several people ask me why Joseph Smith said, "Oh Lord My God" when he jumped up into the window at the Carthage Jail. I had that question asked again this week so I thought I would put it in a Sunday Sermons so you could all hear the answer.
It has to do with the bigger question of why Joseph Smith and the other Nauvoo era Saints were members of the Masonic Order. I learned quite a lot about this subject while I was a guide in Nauvoo in summer of 1965. I was actually there as a part of taking a University of Utah Graduate Religion course from T. Edgar Lyon. We studied this subject at great length.
There are two main reasons why Joseph Smith encouraged the members of the church to join the Masons.
REASON #1: The first reasons was political. At the time the Saints lived in Nauvoo the two political parties were pretty well balanced in numbers in Illinois. It would have been very dangerous for the Saints to have thrown that delicate political balance to one side or the other. Joseph Smith felt that they had to start to do some things to try to become a part of the mainstream political system and not be on the other side of the fence with any of the big powerful political groups. That is why Joseph Smith then ran for President. He had no intention of becoming the President Of The United States. But he knew that because Nauvoo had now become bigger than Chicago and the Mormons pretty much voted as a block that if they voted for the republican candidate the democrats would kill them. If they voted for the democrat then the republicans would kill them... so... THEY VOTED FOR JOSEPH SMITH INSTEAD. That pretty much ended that problem in that election year.
In a similar manner then, they also tried to align themselves with another powerful group in the state called the Masons. Most of the men in Illinois no matter what political party they belonged to were Masons. Joseph Smith and the other brethren joined the Masonic Order so that they could become brothers with the Masons and seek protection from them to help stop the persecution. It worked really well at first. But after about a year there were more Mormon Masons than non Mormon Masons so the non Mormons got scared they would take over. Then the plan sort of back fired on the members of the church and the Masons tried to kick them all out. The Mason issue and the political imbalance issue became very hot issues at that time in church history.
REASON #2 Joseph Smith allowed the members of the church to join the Masonic Order to later help save the life of John Taylor. I assume that only because he was a prophet of God could he have known that would be the case. Here is what happened....
Joseph Smith himself became a 32nd degree mason (only the president of the United States can become a 33rd degree mason). Being a mason Joseph knew that every mason is under oath to protect the life of any other mason if they give them a certain sign called the distress signal. That sign is given if your life is in danger by raising both your hands high above your head and lowering them three times. If you are where you are in the dark or can not be seen by the other fellow Masons then instead of raising your hands above your head in the distress signal, you can instead call out the words, Oh Lord My God, have mercy on the widows son. If any person who is also a Mason sees or hears that distress signal, they are under obligation and oath themselves to help save you unless it would put their own life in jeopardy.
When Joseph Smith jumped up in the window he did not go there to jump out of the jail window to escape (that is what people now days think he was doing.... and that is totally false).... he was not jumping in the window to escape at all. He jumped up into the window so he could be seen in full view by the mob and then when they saw him in the window, he intended on letting the mob down below see him give the Masonic distress signal so they would be obligated to help him save his life. He jumped up in the window, threw up both of his arms high in the air above his head as the beginning of the distress signal and he also shouted out to any who could not see him, "OH LORD MY GOD...." but before he could lower his arms or finish what he was trying to say, the shots rang out.... bam bam bam. The men in the mob down below seeing him in the window shot him dead before he could finish what he was trying to do or say. He then fell out of the second story window (which would have likely killed him anyway if he had jumped) down to the ground by the well, shot dead.
Hyrum had already been killed by the mobsters who came up the stairs and tried breaking into the jail keepers living quarters where the Prophet and his brethren were staying. They were not in a jail cell. The Carthage Jail, jail keeper had let them stay in his living quarters, where he thought it would be more comfortable for them and then he left because he knew there was going to be trouble. The men coming up the stairs tried to force the door of the jail keepers room open and getting the door open a little as the brethren tried to hold it shut, they pointed their guns through the opening in the door and shot Hyrum Smith dead and wounded John Taylor. Willard Richards was also in the room behind the door trying to hold it shut. He kept hitting the rifles with his cane as they pointed them through the opening in the door but it was not enough to save Hyrum Smith or John Taylor. Elder Richards was not shot himself. As the mob continued trying to break into the room someone down stairs cried out that the Mormons were coming. When the members of the mob heard that, they were all afraid so they all ran back down the stairs and stopped trying to break in the room.
Elder Richards was a medical doctor. When he saw that John Taylor was wounded he tried to care for him. He laid him on the mattress from the jail keepers bed and pushed him under the jail keepers bed to hid him from the mob. Elder Richards was afraid the mob would now come back up the stairs again to the jail keepers room to finish what they had started. After a few minutes there hiding, Elder Richards thought if he could get Elder Taylor back out of the room into the actual jail cell and lock the cell door then the mob could not take him. (he had the keys to the jail cell door... the jail keeper had left them with them... some tight security ha ha ha).
After all seemed quiet (Joseph having been shot out of the window) Elder Richards pulled the mattress out from under the bed with the wounded and bleeding John Taylor on it and pulled it across the floor like a sling to get John Taylor out of the room, through the door, across the short hall at the top of the steps and over to the left into the jail cell which could then be locked. He got the mattress through the door of the jail keepers room where the mob had put rifles through and shot Hyrum before they ran back down the steps. As Elder Richards passed through the door pulling the mattress with John Taylor on it, they got to the top of the steps where he was then intending to keep pulling him down the hall the short distance to the jail cell (about 20 feet) but as he passed to the top of the stairs he could see the mob coming in the door down stairs and starting up the steps again.
So he dropped hold of the mattress and stepped to the head of the stairs where the mob was coming up the steps. He too knew that every man in the mob was a member of the Masons. So then Elder Richards did what he knew would keep the mob from coming up the stairs to kill them. He gave the Masonic distress signal. Standing at the top of the stairs, Elder Richards raised both of his arms high above his head and lowered them 3 times and called out to those down below in the stairwell who could not see him Oh Lord My God, Have Mercy On The Widows Son. When the men in the mob saw and heard him do that, they were under oath as Masons to not do any bodily harm to Elder Richards so they stopped and went back down the stairs and out of the jail.
That is the second reason and the main reason why Joseph Smith had been inspired to become a mason..... to help Elder Richards have the knowledge he needed to save the live of John Taylor who surely would have been killed by that mob had Elder Richards not have known the Masonic distress signal to save them. Joseph had intended to use that same knowledge to save his own life there in the widow but they did not give him a chance to do the distress sign.
After that, the Mormons had nothing else to do with the Masons. In Utah the anti Mormons (who were all still Masons) then started the Masonic order there again in Utah but now it was all Anti-Mormons. They actually made a Masonic ruling that no Mormon could be a Mason in Utah or Idaho. That is still in effect in their rules of the Utah and Idaho Masonic Order today. But many members have joined outside the state of Utah and then moved to Utah or Idaho so the Masons have had to sort of relax the rule because they could not kick them out of the Masons if they were already a Mormon and a Mason when they moved there. But if you are already a Mormon, and you live in Utah or Idaho and you want to join the Masons you have to write a letter to the Church and ask for your name to be removed from the records of the church before they will admit you. President Hinckley has asked us as Members of the church to not belong to any secret society in our day and age. I assume he is by that invitation asking those who are already Masons to drop their membership in the Masons and not participate in it any further no matter where they live.
So there you have a bit of historical trivia.... and reasons why.... and it is just my opinion.
NOTE: Nothing in any of these Sunday Sermons is intended to represent the official doctrines of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are strictly instructions and teachings from Cordell and Janice Vail to their family.
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